3D printing is once again playing an integral role in the world of art and artifacts. In this instance, Zoe Allen, Senior Gilded Furniture and Frames Conservator, and Phil James, a technician at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, set out to restore a chair that once belonged to Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France. The chair will be displayed in the new Europe 1600 to 1800 galleries scheduled to open later in 2015 at the V&A. It has been reupholstered a number of times; it was also re-gilded and re-painted. The most recent alteration was in the 1970s, when it was painted a grey-blue color and upholstered in a blue fabric.Share
The chair was part of a larger suite of lavish furniture produced in 1788, just one year preceding the French Revolution, by Jean-Baptiste-Claude Sené for Marie Antoinette’s palace in Saint Cloud, just to the west of Paris. The furniture was painted and also gilded by Louis-François Chatard. Both men were principal chair craftsmen and gilders to Marie Antoinette and her husband, King Louis XVI. The restored chair, like other pieces in the suite, bears the maker’s stamp.
Individual pieces in the suite are in different collections, including the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Versailles Palace in France. The Victoria and Albert Museum has a second chair, which was not restored and, instead, serves as an example of the transformation of the object through the centuries.
Researchers at the Met Museum discovered that the chair (and the entire suite) had been originally upholstered. The fabric was a white, hand-embroidered floral print, which was still present on a fire screen, also part of the original suite.
They also found that the carved woodwork was originally partly gilded and painted white so that it matched the fabric. This inspired the V&A and Ms. Allen to consider a restoration that was more historically accurate. (Read more.)